DU calls attention to threatened Gulf Coast wetlands on 14th Annual World Wetlands Day

MEMPHIS, Tenn., Feb. 1, 2011 – Tomorrow marks the 14th annual celebration of World Wetlands Day, when government agencies, non-governmental organizations and citizens seize the opportunity to recognize the importance of wetland ecosystems for humans and wildlife alike.

In light of this past year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Ducks Unlimited is using this opportunity to call attention to the Gulf Coast, one of DU's five highest-priority conservation areas in North America and a mainstay for wintering waterfowl, as it traditionally supports more than 13 million ducks and geese in some years. DU has been working to restore Gulf Coast wetlands for more than 20 years and has conserved more than 250,000 acres in the gulf coastal zone. Unfortunately, this region continues to lose wetland habitat the size of a football field every 30 minutes.

"Though we escaped last year's oil spill with less near-term impact on coastal wetlands than could have occurred, I think it reminded people that long-term wetland conservation and restoration is critical," said Dale Humburg, DU's chief biologist. "Wetlands are some of nature's most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems, providing natural flood control, water quality and prime habitat for fish and wildlife. And they are essential for the hunting and fishing many of us enjoy. But we're losing these precious natural resources at an alarming rate. World Wetlands Day is a good opportunity to highlight this imperiled ecosystem, but the focus really needs to be continual."

DU is also using this opportunity to draw upon the theme of this year's World Wetlands Day: "Wetlands and Forests." DU has worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to reforest Wetlands Reserve Program-enrolled sites in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley with bottomland hardwood tree species. Historically, this region was comprised almost entirely of bottomland hardwoods. The oak-dominated forest with its intermingled cypress sloughs and brakes provided food and shelter for ducks, particularly mallards and wood ducks, and many other species of wildlife.

"Through NRCS WRP reforestation efforts, many existing mature tracts of bottomland hardwood forest have been reconnected, expanding the total forested area, and aiding the recovery of a variety of area sensitive species," said Dr. Tom Moorman, director of conservation planning for DU's Southern Region. "This work proves that through the efforts of DU and our partners, it is possible to restore these critical ecosystems to their natural state."

Ducks Unlimited is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres, thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.

Lauren Oxner                            loxner@ducks.org                     901-758-3851